Thursday, July 17, 2008

More on Paul

From Within Creation, by Farid de la Ossa Arrieta, CMF
In the first major section of his Letter to the Romans, Paul, to quote from Bishop N.T. Wright, gives "an exposition of God's goodness and power in creation" (Paul In Fresh Perspective p.29). He does so in order to call "the human race to account for not recognizing God and giving him the praise and honor that were his due" (ibid). "For what can be known about God," Paul writes,
"is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse" (Rom 1,19-20).
The result of this refusal to give God the praise he is due in light of the evidence to be found "in what he has made," is that human beings, bearers of the imago dei, have become corrupt. Hence, "violence and hatred fills the world; and even those who think they are above such things,", namely the people of the covenant, Israel, "are themselves in fact no better" (Wright 29).

I still think this falls short of anything like universal condemnation. Paul wants to give credit where it is due and is certainly willing to give more credit to Gentiles, especially those who, "by nature do what the law requires" despite not having the law, despite not being people of the covenant, than to those, like himself, who are sharers in the covenant. Nonetheless, even though by their behavior "[t]hey show that the work of the law is written on their hearts,", like the observant Jew, they are not righteous. After all, "their conflicting thoughts" will both accuse and excuse them on the day of judgment (Rom. 2, 12-16).

I just want to be clear that I am not making an argument for justification apart from God's grace given to us in and through Christ Jesus, without which humanity has no hope, even less do I want to dismiss original sin. I do, however, want to argue against total depravity and the two misunderstandings about original sin as well as maintain that those who make an all too simplistic argument for universal condemnation, which is incompatible with either a just or merciful God, must necessarily aasert both total depravity and believe that God, in his wrath, is punishing us all for the sins of another. No, God's wrath is reserved for our failure to give God the praise he is due, whether we are sharers in the covenant or not. Therefore, I remain convinced that for adherents of other religions, at least those that constitute the world's great faiths, what we know as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam, who have never heard of Christ, as well as for those who have never had Christ proclaimed to them in an authentic way, Paul does not foreclose the either possibility of salvation or that their faith and practice is a positive means of achieving salvation. Though anyone who attains salvation does through Christ, if even in a mysterious and unseen manner.

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